The Roosevelt's reborn Blue Room
swings with Pete Fountain and Tim Laughlin
by Keith Spera, Music writer, The Times-Picayune
Saturday August 01, 2009, 2:33 PM
Reprint Courtesy of Nola.com © 2009 New Orleans Net LLC.
Water glasses reflected blue stage lights. A massive chandelier sparkled. Elegantly attired guests dined on lobster and filet mignon and danced to a jazz big band fronted by the clarinets of Pete Fountain and Tim Laughlin.
Take away the iPhones deployed by some and Friday could have passed for a scene from the Blue Room's heyday as one of the South's premier supper clubs.
Instead, Friday marked the rebirth of the Blue Room in The Roosevelt New Orleans, the sumptuously restored former Fairmont hotel on Baronne Street.
Photo right: Fountain "toots" at the opening of the reborn Blue Room on Friday, July 31, 2009. Kevin Zansler / The Times-Picayune
Back in the day, the Blue Room hosted all manner of marquee entertainers: Louis Armstrong. Frank Sinatra. Sonny & Cher. Tony Bennett. Ella Fitzgerald. Marlene Dietrich. Jimmy Durante. Bette Midler. For decades, until supper clubs fell out of favor, it was the place to see and be seen. Many New Orleanians harbor fond memories of special occasions spent there.
In its new incarnation, the room's layout is altered only slightly. Tables are set on two tiers, per tradition. But the low stage on which performers once ventured out among tables has been replaced by a herringbone-patterned dance floor. Musicians now occupy a raised stage set into the room's back wall.
But the elegance of the old days is in evidence. Many in attendance Friday could have frequented the Blue Room in the 1960s or earlier. With a $195 ticket, they passed through massive gold doors gift-wrapped with blue ribbons. Inside awaited memories and executive chef Stefan Kauth's menu of lobster and choupique caviar symphony, petit filet mignon, Louisiana crab cakes, truffle mashed potatoes and baked Alaska flambe.
Laughlin and an expanded version of his band eased into a program of jazz standards and original material. The latter included "For Pete's Sake," a song Laughlin wrote in honor of Fountain, his friend, mentor and the night's special guest.
All musicians but Fountain wore tuxedos; he opted for a dark suit and tie. Bassist Matt Perrine, his long hair pulled back in a discrete ponytail, worked an upright bass furiously as he soloed in "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Men in suits and women in cocktail dresses crowded the dance floor. They kept dancing through the spiritual "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." "It's done in a tempo where you can get away with it," Laughlin said later.
After a final "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," fans pressed against the stage to shake Fountain's hand or collect an autograph on the blue souvenir menus. "The whole city loves you," one man said to Fountain.
Laughlin and Fountain return on Saturday, Aug. 1, for a second sold-out show. For the next few weeks at least, the Blue Room will open only for weddings and other private events. Starting in October, the room will feature a Sunday brunch, the restoration of another tradition.
The 504-room Roosevelt, now part of the Hilton Hotel Corp.'s upscale Waldorf-Astoria portfolio, welcomed its first guests since Hurricane Katrina in early July. Laughlin has performed frequently in the hotel's refurbished Sazerac Bar. When a regular schedule of entertainment will return to the Blue Room itself is uncertain.
Fans new and old will likely embrace it.
Fountain first played the room in the 1940s, and appeared dozens of times over the years. Laughlin attended a handful of shows at the old Blue Room, including the Mills Brothers and Mel Torme. But Friday was the first time he ever graced the stage himself.
"It was almost spiritual in a way," Laughlin said soon after the show's conclusion. "One of the biggest honors I've ever had. And to do it with Pete is a notch above that."
Reprint and content courtesy of Nola.com © 2009 New Orleans Net LLC.